Why SUPER GT teams face "tricky" Fuji 450km strategy calls

SUPER GT teams are facing a headache working out the best strategy for Wednesday's Fuji race, with rule changes for this year opening up a wide range of options for the 450km race.

Why SUPER GT teams face "tricky" Fuji 450km strategy calls
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Unlike in previous years, teams are no longer required to change drivers at every pitstop, meaning teams now need to consider if they will double-stint their tyres over the course of the 100-lap race.

The rules enshrine that each team must make two pitstops during the race, and that no one driver can be at the wheel for more than two-thirds of the distance, creating a drive-time maximum of 66 laps. Beyond those stipulations, teams are more or less free to tackle the race as they wish.

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Double-stinting the tyres and going for a fuel-only stop is estimated to be around 15-20 seconds quicker than a traditional stop including a driver change, which might make it seem like an obvious play.

However, it would still leave drivers having to manage their tyres a lot on a day that temperatures are forecast to be several degrees higher than they were during Tuesday's qualifying session.

The fuel window for GT500 cars at Fuji is estimated to be between 40 and 44 laps, so in the case of a team electing to double-stint, it's likely that the other driver would do as many laps as possible to take some pressure off the driver doing the double stint.

That would still however leave the double-stinting driver needing to do between 56 and 60 laps.

  • Stream every qualifying session and race of the 2022 SUPER GT season only on Motorsport.tv.

Impul Nissan driver Bertrand Baguette suggests that only a minority of teams will pursue this option.

"We still need to analyse if it’s possible for us [to double-stint the tyres]," Baguette told Motorsport.com. "You would have to do more than half of the race on one set of tyres.

"For sure it’s an option, but whether it ends up being faster, that’s for the team to decide. You have to consider also you don’t lose time warming up the tyres [immediately after a pitstop], but then again if there is a safety car you could lose out at the restart if you are on old tyres.

"There are a lot of factors. It’s a tricky decision, to be honest. I imagine some people will try, but I don’t know if a majority will."

 

The potential strategy window at Fuji will be much wider than it would be for a conventional 300km race, where teams tend to pit within a few laps of each other around one-third distance.

It's likely that some teams will aim to clear the first pitstop extremely early in the race, perhaps as soon as lap 12-15, in a bid to find some clean air - with the added bonus of reducing the risk of being caught out by the pitlane closing behind the safety car.

On the other side of the coin, some teams may opt to go longer if they have strong race pace early on and aim to take a more conventional approach of splitting the distance into more even-sized chunks.

The race engineer for the pole-winning Racing Project Bandoh Toyota team, Varun Srinivasan, believes that the two Yokohama-shod cars starting on the front row will struggle to make their tyres last long enough to double-stint them, which would push them towards the latter option.

"I think it depends a lot on how the track evolves," Srinivasan told Motorsport.com. "I think teams are smart enough to change [strategies during the race] especially with the Bridgestone cars. So their drop-offs compared to the rest of the field will decide how we react to them. 

"You have to keep in mind that if you double-stint, one driver has to do 60 laps, which is not straightforward. Even physically it's really demanding for him.

"Hopefully we can get a clean getaway [from pole] and we can build a gap. It's easier said than done but we will see. We have to see how long the tyres last and where the drop-off is."

 

In the GT300 class, there's the possibility of seeing some even more extreme strategies, as they will have to complete fewer laps - perhaps around 94, depending on the number of caution periods - and generally have better fuel economy than their GT500 counterparts.

This has prompted suggestions in the paddock that some teams in the lower class may elect to pit at the end of the opening lap. An early safety car period that bunches up the pack has the potential to make this strategy a dream ticket, if you have tyres that can handle two mammoth stints.

But despite the points-leading Kondo Racing Nissan being traditionally among the kinder on its tyres, Joao Paulo de Oliveira ruled out this avenue for he and teammate Kiyoto Fujinami.

"I don’t think we can come in as early as the first lap," the Brazilian told Motorsport.com. "I think the earliest is about lap 9 or lap 10 because of the fuel consumption. That’s the main restriction. 

"But there are still a lot of options. It’s the first time in SUPER GT I think we’ve had the option to do four or five different strategies. You can stop early, refuel and split the remainder of the race, or you can split it in three, go long for the first stint and use softer tyres later on when it gets colder.

"We can’t decide on the plan completely before the race, because things will happen and we have to adapt. We have to have a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C."

In the end, success is likely to come down to how well each team adapts to what happens in the race, as well as good-old fashioned luck. The Real Racing Honda team was the chief beneficiary of a well-timed full-course yellow period last year which set up the team for victory.

Nobuharu Matsushita is hoping for similar fortune this time around from down in 12th on the grid, having ruined his attack lap in qualifying with a flatspot approaching Turn 1.

"The important thing is the race pace," Matsushita told Motorsport.com. "We can win even starting last if we are fast. If the pace is good, we should stay out for longer, otherwise we have to box [early]. Because we are starting near the back, we can be aggressive as we have nothing to lose."

 

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